"Lovely," the first girl said.
"Ooh-ooh!" the second girl said and repeated her statement while de Gier displayed his wide shoulders, his long and muscled back, his narrow waist, and his straight legs.
"The legs are too thin," the first girl said, "not that I mind. Nice, eh?"
The second girl stuck to her original observation. The first girl nudged her.
"Yes," the second girl said, "I like his eyes too, and his curls. Let's wait for him afterward and ask if he is for hire."
De Gier stepped over the railing, hesitated, and jumped. While he jumped he thought it was a pity. The case was not out of the ordinary: a drunk in a canal, it might not happen every day but it certainly happened every week. He had, when he spotted the disturbance, hoped for a little more. He needed work to fill the emptiness of the coming weekend. He saw, while he fell (the mind is fast), an aphorism neatly lettered on the slow green swell of the canal's surface. Emptiness is the deviYs headpillow. Then a word changed. Emptiness is the smoker's headpillow. Not having anything to do for two empty days would sorely make him smoke again. He hadn't smoked for five days now. The threatening peace and horrifying quiet of the weekend ahead would break his effort. The weekend would destroy him unless splash! The splash exploded both aphorism and reflection. (The mind may be fast, but still moves within time.) De Gier, excused from the duty to think, experienced the sensations of becoming wet and dirty. A condom curled itself around his toe, a soggy newspaper brushed past his mouth, his wrists were linked by a pale green waterweed. He muttered and shook off the condom. The newspaper floated on. He broke the waterweed. He determined his position. His body had turned while it fell, and he no longer saw the constable and the civilian but a row of legs belonging to an orderly line of spectators settled on a tree, felled by age and lying across the canal. The eyes of the spectators were hostile. De Gier breathed out; the rippling water rose to his mouth.
"Watch out!" shouted Karate.
De Gier turned and saw a blond head and a pink hand. The enemy watched him from bloodshot eyes. His spluttering mouth blew a bubble, a balloon that had to be more than mere spittle-film, for it didn't burst, managed to detach itself from the man's extended lips, and wafted away. The crutch was raised, ready to come down, and de Gier spread his arms and propelled himself backward. The crutch came down and shot up again. De Gier's rowing arms provided more distance.
Grijpstra had seen enough. Hindered by jostling bodies and deafened by rough voices the adjutant struggled, liberated himself, and found an abandoned handcart chained to a tree well away from the disturbance. He climbed the cart, careful not to tip it, and admired the view-a perfect square bordered by bridge, quaysides, and the tumbled elm tree-the arena where the law fought its formidable opponent. He averted his eyes. The view might be interesting but he didn't enjoy its irregular motion. He preferred what lay beyond its limits and observed calm water supporting two black geese with fiery red and bulbous beaks, and glittering eyes. Grijpstra thought that he recognized the scene and searched his memory for associations. The requested information appeared promptly. He saw clearly remembered paintings, created by Melcbior Hondecoeter, a medieval artist inspired by birds. The adjutant saw pheasants in a snow-covered cemetery, a giant woodcock defending itself with swollen purple throat and half-raised wings against the attack of jealous peacocks, and sooty coots landing on a castle pond surrounded by crumbling moss-grown walls. He nodded, but Hondecoeter had forgotten to portray these exotic geese, floating in arrogant glory on a green swell of luminous water mirroring steeply rising silver-gray mansions, holding on to each other in their great age.
Grijpstra looked up. The narrow gable frames supported golden balls flanking a stonework angel raising his trumpet The tall trees, carrying heavy loads of leaves, reached for the angel. The adjutant sighed. He would like to do this painting himself, and perhaps he could, but he would need some rest and unlittered space. His small apartment offered neither. He thought of his flat-footed heavy wife and the overflow of furniture, stacked under low ceilings, in a haze of kitchen smells.
He was ready to sigh again, when the rocking cart forced him into a lopsided dance. An old woman climbed the cart, an ugly shape topped by a glistening skull spotted by transparent clusters of gray trailing hair. She peered at him from watery eyes pressed by puffy skinbags. Her teeth clacked as she spoke.
"Isn't it terrible? Yes, it's terrible. That's my neighbor, Frits Fortune. He doesn't do nothing. It's no sin to be drunk. I order more beer and Frits goes to get it and falls. His crutch gets away and breaks the glasses. We jump about, me and the others, to get hold of Frits and save the drink and down he goes again. The fuzz rushes in. It beats us with nightsticks. Frits gets offthe floor and his crutch hits the fuzz, right on the smacker. Accident, everybody knows he don't mean it, but the fuzz knows nothing. They drag Frits out and dump him in the canal. We're friends so we put in a word. I did, and Zhaver, he's the barman, and Titania, she's the barmaid, and Borry Beelema, he's the boss, he also runs the hair salon on the other side. Borry always helps, he does, God's other son we call him, you know? So Borry, he grabs a bottle and hey hey we all shout and back comes the fuzz. Then we do nothing, for the fuzz has guns." She waved a claw.
"Yes ma'm," Grijpstra said.
The claw pointed. "Ill be the death of him, poor feller, and all by mistake. Because Uncle Harry got scared of the weirdoes. Calls the fuzz and goes home. You know Uncle Harry?"
"Sells herring, he's all right. But when he's in his stall he can't get away and the weirdoes come and yell in his face. Got weak nerves, Uncle Harry has. The weirdoes are on junk, they're needlers, that's the worst. It's terrible, ain't it?"
The woman clacked her teeth cheerfully. She faced the adjutant and admired his pink clean cheeks sagging heavily over solid jawbones. Eager to increase her contact, she thumped him on the thigh. The cart wobbled.
"Yeh. Poor Frits, he don't earn it, not after the other trouble he don't like Job, he lost it all."
"Come on," she said coyly. "You're from my time, you read the Bible. Like Job, on the shitheap, man who got boils. Lost everything, right? Poor overnight, and sick too, ain't that terrible?"
"Yes ma'm. Mr. Fortune lost it all too?"
"Yeh. Yesterday. Just imagine, he comes home, worked all day, poor man is tired, a good man, opens the door, and nothing there."
"Nothing at all?"
"Nothing. Over there. See Hotel Oberon? Next 'door. Old warehouse they changed into apartments. He lives on top and Fm underneath. That's how I know. Frits comes home, puts his key in, opens the door and nothing there."
She squeaked like a bird in fear. "Never. His own wife. Never surprised me. Rea Fortune, the silly bitch. Frits's too good for a silly bitch. The mister works while the missus sits on her sucker, if nobody holds it for her, that is. When he's home she yells at him, the floor is thick but I can still hear her. He makes the money and she spends it, but she can't do nothing."
"Mrs. Fortune wasn't home?"
The woman cackled. "Not home? Nothing was home; He gets inside and there's nothing but polished floors. That's why he's got the crutch. He slips and hurts himself. I hear it and I go up and help him down the stairs, take him to the doctor. He's in pain. He's lame. Poor Frits. But she'd taken it all, except the phone, can you believe it? Even the dog is gone, nice dog, a poodle, Babette. But Babette conies back late last night, scratching and barking and Frits lets it in and this morning the dog is gone again, ain't that terrible? So I take Frits to the pub and everybody knows and they all buy him a drink and look at it now."